Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday #11

      Between Conan and TMNT I have experienced the whole gambit of sub-system sprawl. Conan was mostly a universal system, TMNT had a subsystem for everything (sometimes with rules inside of sub-elements of a subsystem). I still enjoy both methods, but I prefer more unified systems.

    This was cemented when I played DC Heroes which had a universal system for everything. This is a great system for super heroes (I have used it quite successfully for Star Wars with Jedi as well). It avoids point sprawl (the difference in Strength between Superman and Batman is 16 points) and it supports Supers, Constructs and gadgeteers equally. And everything gets resolved on one universal table. It was later ported away from the DC license to Blood of Heroes. This is a great game system, it is out of print, but worth a try if you can find it.

     When I am designing my own RPGs, I try to follow my preferences. I want there to be a single system to resolve everything in my designs.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday #10

When I moved downtown, I would visit a local comic shop looking to see if they had any RPG books. It was futile, they had a few,  but they were not in the business of keeping it up-to-date. Still, they had a game that eventually caught my eye. Teenge Mutant Ninja Turtles and other strangeness. At that point, I had only read one comic book. It was an Iron Man that made no sense to me (it was mid-story arc, with lots of callbacks to previous books I had no access to). When I got TMNT , I didn't even realize it was Based on a comic book. But it did have ninja in the title, so I was intrigued. This was another game that blew my mind. 1st level characters were amazingly capable and the list of powers and abilities let you make almost any character without creating a needlessly crunchy system. The horrible layout of the rules challenge player mastery all on its own. I played an entire adventure before I realized that there were special one-off rules for each ability in the description of that ability in the glossary.
Since then, when I am designing my own games, I have worked to make sure that the relevant rules are either presented together in the same section or inform you to refer to other relevant sections.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday #9

1   Light rules vs Crunchy rules - For purposes of this conversation, I am considering the level of crunch to equate almost entirely to handling time (i.e., how long it takes to resolve an action/conflict). Through all the games I played, I figured out I did not like ultra-lite games (nearing freeform RPGs) and I did not like ultra-crunch games (Champions and the like). But there are games that I absolutely love. The Wing Commander video game series taught me I would put up with anything if the story was good enough (for me that game was really hard to play, but I wouldn't give up, because I wanted to know what happened next in the story). But story wasn't everything, I did not like super light rules, nor did I particularly enjoy collaborative story telling (e.g., freeform RPGs). I like playing the game as well. An example of this was Basic D&D, played without minis and maps, there was not a lot of game there. You rolled to hit, you rolled damage, kept doing that to until someone ran out of HPs. So I have figured out what I like:
a. GM tools are well-developed and provide for creative use and interpretation,
b. Player input into the game and story is meaningful and allows for creativity as well as impactful decision making.
c. Collaborative story telling, no one person dominates what happens to the characters and the events as they unfold.
d. Rues/Mechanics with enough tactical depth to challenge my mastery as a player (Dogs in the Vineyard is a good exampled. The dice play is not mindless, but it does not stop the story until it is resolved). 

And that is what I strive for in my designs. I want to make a game with a setting and in-world events that inspires the players to action.  The setting should be rich enough that players want to take their favorite system and port the setting to that system. But, the game must be fun enough that you would want to play it even if there was no story at all. I feel like I have achieved that with Steampunk Crescendo and City in Darkness. Some of my other Game Chef entries and early attempts at design are close, but not quite on the mark.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday #8

A long time ago, my friend Mark () got Champions. This was a game that let you play a superhero. If you haven't played it, it is a neat system that gives you total creative control over your hero. There is no list of superpowers (like super breath or web slinging), instead you bought the effect the power has in the game. For instance Web slinging would need to be purchased twice, once for the movement power and once for the restraining power. We played Champions twice. the first time we played for over a month. well, sort of, we made characters until the GM got sick of our shenanigans. John was better at math then me and was competitive. each week we would go off and make a character, then we'd get back together and see what kind of superheroes we came up with. Inevitably, John's character would far outpace everyone else's. The first time, I had some minor powers and a big attack that did 8d6. It was powerful enough to take me out, so I was happy. Until John explained that his character could do 12d6. Needless to say, I didn't want to be his sidekick. So, we went back to the drawing board. An on it went, until the GM caught one of us in a math error. Then we started a new campaign. The GM verified everyone's character build and once the errors were fixed, no rebuilds were allowed. So,  we got to play this time. I played the prince of elementals. He had an attack and defense that represented each of the classic Greek elements. At the time, rounds in Champions had 10 phases and movement was broken into phases so that players could react mid-movement. I had just recently played Car Wars and Starfleet Battles, this mechanic really threw me out of the superhero genre. But the real deal breaker was when we defeated the mercenaries with M-16 assault rifles the GM told me I could not pick up and use one. I have avoided this and other games like it since then.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Thoughtful Thursday #7

My friend John got me the TSR edition of the Conan RPG for my birthday the year it came out. To be honest, I was not that psyched. I enjoy the Conan genre of fantasy, but felt that D&D could fulfill the needs of the genre well enough.
Fortunately for me, it was a light read and John did not let up on the enthusiasm. This game opened my eyes to the possibilities of game design. Everything I Had come to assume was a necessarry staple of RPGs was not present and the game play was great. Classes, random stats, calculated stats, even various tables and systems proved unnecessarry. Even spell slots were not required, the magic in this system did not need them and was effective. This is a game where the only stats are skils (even hps) and there is a universal resolution chart. And it blew my mind. I've never had a bad time playing this system and it remains the high watermark for game critique/evaluation.
FYI, there is a re-released versionhere: